Looking out for them

A patient gave me a gift last week. Considering my patients are refugees who are typically of modest means, for whom bus fare can be an issue, gift giving is an unusual event at the clinic. I think I've been moved to blog about it every time it's happened (here and here).

I'd seen the woman, a Karen living in Langley with her husband and children, on three occasions. I hadn't done anything out of the ordinary: treated her for a parasite, done a Pap smear, diagnosed her with H. pylori.

At the end of our last visit, she handed me something wrapped in a plastic shopping bag. It was a long woven skirt in the most vivid pink imaginable, with yellow and green stripes. I promptly tried it on over my pants. It fit perfectly. As I thanked her, overwhelmed with how kind the gesture was, but also how unnecessary and costly, she repeatedly asked through the interpreter if I liked it.

When she had left the clinic, I pulled the interpreter aside and asked if it was appropriate for me to accept the gift.

She shook her head before I had finished explaining my hesitation. "You must accept it!" she said emphatically. Gripping my arm, she said quietly and firmly, "The Karens give gifts to people who they feel in their hearts are looking out for them."

I had tears in my eyes, because she said so simply what we strive to do in medicine, particularly for the very vulnerable patients at our clinic. And also, because it took so little for her to trust my care.